There is much to be said about Bradley Manning’s remarkable day in court yesterday—he pleaded guilty to numerous charges for passing material to WikiLeaks and offered a lengthy and revealing statement about it all—but since I concentrate on the media here, let’s stick to that angle for now. Yesterday I provided commentary and numerous links on this and other angles here.
In his statement, Manning provided for the first time a blow-by-blow on how and why he came to contact WikiLeaks in early 2010 in a process that led to the passing of an infamous video and millions of documents to them. It turns out that he first contacted The New York Times and The Washington Post and planned to reach out to Politico (that is, if everyone there was not over at Bob Woodward’s house) but was turned back by bad weather.
Manning said that he had called the Times’s public editor and left a message on his news tips line, briefly explaining what he had in mind. That post, ironically, was then filled by Clark Hoyt, who had directed the Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) office in DC that earned so much (belated) glory for their very rare, tough coverage of the bogus Bush claims of Iraq WMD. Manning never got a call back. Hoyt told Calderone yesterday that he had no recollection of such a call.
Manning did manage to get through to an unnamed reporter at The Washington Post, who seemed to brush him off, although it’s possible his description of what he wanted to leak might have sounded jumbled and hard to judge.
Failing in these efforts, he then learned about the WikiLeaks submission process and—the rest is history.
Jeff Jarvis, among others, has raised the question of what would have happened if the Times had returned his call? Would it, too, have regarded him as just another sketchy and unworthy source—or, why not, asked him to send along his treasure trove? If he did pass on the bombshell material, how would the Times have responded? If it went ahead and published, wouldn’t it have been in the legal spotlight and taken the brunt of criticism and harsh charges?
For now, let me recommend that you consult Manning’s full statement, which includes so many interesting details and revelations barely mentioned in the mainstream accounts today. For background, there’s my recent book with Kevin Gosztola.
But here’s an excerpt on a particularly critical and interesting topic—Manning’s viewing of the “Collateral Murder” video of that US helicopter gunship attack on Iraqi civilians, his reaction (sparking a whole chain of events), and the role of David Finkel of The Washington Post who had somehow, as an embedded reporter, gotten access to the video earlier and wrote a less-than-fully-damning account of what had transpired.
The video depicted several individuals being engaged by an aerial weapons team. At first I did not consider the video very special, as I have viewed countless other war porn type videos depicting combat. However, the recording of audio comments by the aerial weapons team crew and the second engagement in the video of an unarmed bongo truck troubled me. As Showman and a few other analysts and officers in the T-SCIF commented on the video and debated whether the crew violated the rules of engagement or ROE in the second engagement, I shied away from this debate, instead conducting some research on the event. I wanted to learn what happened and whether there was any background to the events of the day that the event occurred, 12 July 2007.
Using Google I searched for the event by its date by its general location. I found several new accounts involving two Reuters employees who were killed during the aerial weapon team engagement. Another story explained that Reuters had requested for a copy of the video under the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. Reuters wanted to view the video in order to understand what had happened and to improve their safety practices in combat zones. A spokesperson for Reuters was quoted saying that the video might help avoid the reoccurrence of the tragedy and believed there was a compelling need for the immediate release of the video.
Despite the submission of the FOIA request, the news account explained that CENTCOM replied to Reuters stating that they could not give a time frame for considering a FOIA request and that the video might no longer exist. Another story I found written a year later said that even though Reuters was still pursuing their request. They still did not receive a formal response or written determination in accordance with FOIA. The fact neither CENTCOM or Multi National Forces Iraq or MNF-I would not voluntarily release the video troubled me further. It was clear to me that the event happened because the aerial weapons team mistakenly identified Reuters employees as a potential threat and that the people in the bongo truck were merely attempting to assist the wounded. The people in the van were not a threat but merely ‘good samaritans.’ The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have.
The dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as quote “dead bastards” unquote and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers. At one point in the video there is an individual on the ground attempting to crawl to safety. The individual is seriously wounded. Instead of calling for medical attention to the location, one of the aerial weapons team crew members verbally asks for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so that he can have a reason to engage. For me, this seems similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.
While saddened by the aerial weapons team crew’s lack of concern about human life, I was disturbed by the response of the discovery of injured children at the scene. in the video, you can see that the bongo truck driving up to assist the wounded individual. In response the aerial weapons team crew— as soon as the individuals are a threat, they repeatedly request for authorization to fire on the bongo truck and once granted they engage the vehicle at least six times.
Shortly after the second engagement, a mechanized infantry unit arrives at the scene. Within minutes, the aerial weapons team crew learns that children were in the van and despite the injuries the crew exhibits no remorse. Instead, they downplay the significance of their actions, saying quote ‘Well, it’s there fault for bringing their kid’s into a battle’ unquote.
The aerial weapons team crew members sound like they lack sympathy for the children or the parents. Later in a particularly disturbing manner, the aerial weapons team verbalizes enjoyment at the sight of one of the ground vehicles driving over a body— or one of the bodies. As I continued my research, I found an article discussing the book, The Good Soldiers, written by Washington Post writer David Finkel.
In Mr. Finkel book, he writes about the aerial weapons team attack. As, I read an online excerpt in Google Books, I followed Mr. Finkel’s account of the event belonging to the video. I quickly realize that Mr. Finkel was quoting, I feel in verbatim, the audio communications of the aerial weapons team crew.
It is clear to me that Mr. Finkel obtained access and a copy of the video during his tenue as an embedded journalist. I was aghast at Mr. Finkel’s portrayal of the incident. Reading his account, one would believe the engagement was somehow justified as ‘payback’ for an earlier attack that lead to the death of a soldier. Mr. Finkel ends his account by discussing how a soldier finds an individual still alive from the attack. He writes that the soldier finds him and sees him gesture with his two forefingers together, a common method in the Middle East to communicate that they are friendly. However, instead of assisting him, the soldier makes an obscene gesture extending his middle finger.
The individual apparently dies shortly thereafter. Reading this, I can only think of how this person was simply trying to help others, and then he quickly finds he needs help as well. To make matter worse, in the last moments of his life, he continues to express his friendly gesture— only to find himself receiving this well known gesture of unfriendliness. For me it’s all a big mess, and I am left wondering what these things mean, and how it all fits together. It burdens me emotionally.
I saved a copy of the video on my workstation. I searched for and found the rules of engagement, the rules of engagement annexes, and a flow chart from the 2007 time period— as well as an unclassified Rules of Engagement smart card from 2006. On 15 February 2010 I burned these documents onto a CD-RW, the same time I burned the 10 Reykjavik 13 cable onto a CD-RW. At the time, I placed the video and rules for engagement information onto my personal laptop in my CHU. I planned to keep this information there until I redeployed in Summer 2010. I planned on providing this to the Reuters office in London to assist them in preventing events such as this in the future.
However, after the WLO published 10 Reykjavik 13 I altered my plans. I decided to provide the video and the rules of engagement to them so that Reuters would have this information before I re-deployed from Iraq. On about 21 February 2010, I described above, I used the WLO submission form and uploaded the documents. The WLO released the video on 5 April 2010. After the release, I was concern about the impact of the video and how it would been received by the general public. I hoped that the public would be as alarmed as me about the conduct of the aerial weapons team crew members. I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare. After the release I was encouraged by the response in the media and general public, who observed the aerial weapons team video. As I hoped, others were just as troubled— if not more troubled that me by what they saw.
At this time, I began seeing reports claiming that the Department of Defense an CENTCOM could not confirm the authenticity of the video. Additionally, one of my supervisors, Captain Casey Fulton, stated her belief that the video was not authentic. In her response, I decided to ensure that the authenticity of the video would not be questioned in the future. On 25 February 2010, I emailed Captain Fulton, a link to the video that was on our ‘T’ drive, and a copy of the video published by WLO that was collected by the open source center, so she could compare them herself.
Also check out “From Legend to Laughingstock,” Greg Mitchell’s post on Woodwardgate.